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Broadcast Gear as Cultural Icons

ImageYou know you're getting old when you see broadcast gear that you actually worked with on display in a museum. It happened to me in the South recently, when I visited a local museum that featured a 60s-era "vintage" RCA audio console from a broadcast station where I had worked as a kid.

There's a funny thing about broadcast equipment. It tends to become operationally obsolete very quickly. But, after a few years pass, it can take on a nostalgic quality. Some items eventually acquire the status of cultural icons.

As one with a penchant for old things, I often find myself rummaging through ancient collectibles in New York City's antique shops. Lately, I've noticed that old electronics—tube gear, consoles with huge grapefruit-sized knobs, deco-style "on the air" lights, microphones, even turret-style RCA television cameras—have begun to appear in these stores with prices that will knock your socks off.

The Early 1970s: The ENG Era is Born

ImageIt was in May 1962, when CBS used the first Ikegami black and white portable video camera to document the historic launching of the first manned space flight, the Aurora 7.  However, it would be ten years later, in 1972, when Ikegami introduced the first color hand-held camera – the HL-33 – for broadcast use.

The HL stood for "Handy Looky," a name that Ikegami still uses today for some of its camcorder models.  However, portable video cameras from the early 1970s might not be considered so portable by today's standards.  These cameras didn't even have the camera's electronics inside them, much less a VCR.  That would take another decade.

Philip's Norelco Brand Once Meant Something Other Than Electric Shavers

ImageToday, the brand name Norelco is synonymous with Philips-made electric shavers.  But in the mid-60s, when color television began to take hold in America, the Norelco PC-60 was Philip's introduction to the famed Plumbicon picture tube.

The PC-60 arrived in 1966 at a time when RCA dominated color television with its one-year-old TK 42 series combo Vidicon and Image Orthicon cameras.  The Plumbicon tube was smaller and more sensitive, but not as sharp.  Its color was often described as mushy.  Nevertheless, the Plumbicon was a major success.

Invented in 1960 as an alternative to the tubes used in RCA's studio cameras, the chief technical advantage of the Plumbicon was that it allowed true color fidelity to be seen in TV broadcasts for the first time.  Philips claimed Plumbicon tubes offered "high resolution, low lag and superior image quality" over conventional camera tubes.

RCA's Last Great Studio Camera: the TK-47

ImageIn 1978, RCA introduced the TK-47, a camera that what would become the company's last hurrah in full-size studio cameras.  The ubiquitous camera became a television industry workhorse until the era of CCDs made it obsolete.

The TK-47 series became so popular, in fact, that it won an Emmy award for its unique use of computing power in 1981. After years of time-consuming and laborious manual set-up, the TK47 was welcomed by engineers for its automatic set-up including registration and alignment of the beams on the tubes.